Some goodbyes are poignant. Some are with relief. Some can be with a hearty “good riddance” or “don’t let the door hit you on the way out”. Some are reluctant, others welcomed, yet others engender a curious combination of emotions that can hit you like a pineapple anchovy pizza. The goodbyes I think about the most are the ones never said; the times when circumstance or misunderstanding did not allow for it, or when the opportunity was simply denied.
I never got to say goodbye to my father. Not really. He died in March of this year. The week before he died, I had called him to thank him for my birthday present. Never a man given to talking a lot, he was even less gregarious than usual. He said he had a cold, and he did sound terrible. I probably should have known, as Dad was always Mr. Impervious to discomfort or pain. Something that would put mere mortals out of commission would be brushed off by my dad (he once went to work in steel-toed boots the day after having ingrown toenails removed). My brother remarked once that Dad could be standing on the moon in his shirtsleeves and not think it was cold. I myself am not made of such strong stuff.
Technically, I never got to say goodbye to my mother either, but at least I was able to make it home to be with her briefly. I was sick myself when my dad passed, so I was unable to travel. It makes a difference.
When I was in graduate school some odd years ago, my dad had a heart bypass operation. I was unable to get home, but it scared me pretty thoroughly. I wrote him a letter telling him that I wanted him to know how much I loved him. I was surprised to get a letter back telling me that it was harder for him to express feelings than it was for “you girls”, but he told me he loved my mother, and me, and my brothers very much. Whenever we talked on the phone (which wasn’t often or long, him being not very talkative as I mentioned), I always told him I loved him and he always said “I love you too, kid.” It always made me feel good, because I knew it was true. Just like I knew he was proud of me overall, even though I managed to make some monumentally stupid moves down the years.
Being an orphan stinks, to put it plainly. However it has had one effect that I did not anticipate or suspect: I find that I try even harder to accomplish my goals because things truly are up to me now. There’s no mommy or daddy to run to even when I have times (as I still do) when I would like to. No place to go, nowhere to hide when the Masters of the Universe engage in a cosmic smack-down.
I would say this to him if I could: I still can’t say goodbye, Dad. I’m still working and trying to keep you and Mom proud of me, and I won’t quit.